While the government seems huge and daunting (a very safe assumption), it's amazing how small the circles are of people doing similar work in the government for different organizations. That makes use of referrals particularly effective.
In this episode of Myths of Selling to Government sponsored by Government Selling Solutions, host Rick Wimberly tells the story of a young sales protege' who took a risk on a referral, found success and produced a darn fine example on referral selling when trying to win government contracts.
Helpful Ways to Use the Power of Referrals to Win Government Contracts
Hello, and welcome to Myths of Selling to Government. If you’re new to us, check out episodes past and make sure you subscribe. If you’re a regular, welcome back, and why not send me comments and suggestions to rick@govselling-dot-com? I sure appreciate the comments, suggestions and, yep, criticisms. Challenge what I’m saying. I like that.
Today, the Power of the Referral. <<echo effect>>
In past episodes and in the book, Seven Myths of Selling to Government, we talk about what makes government buyers tick. You’re going to find them very cautious. They are spending taxpayer money, which they take seriously…um, most of the time. So, they want their acquisitions to solve a problem, be logical, helpful and cost efficient. (Notice, I didn’t say cheap.)
And, they don’t like to be wrong about their acquisitions. They know they may have to live with their mistakes for a long time. Government is not much of the private sector. In the private sector, you can often recover fairly quickly. A friend calls it the hero-asshole theory. He said in his business, a large grocery store chain, folks could be a hero one month, but mess something up and be an asshold the next month. He said, the good thing was that you could be a hero the next month.
I believe that in the government space, the same theory applies. But, because of the way government works…very slowly…you can wear that asshole label for a long time…a long, long time. it’s hard to quickly flip back and forth. You may not get fired. You may even get promoted…but, often, you’ll still keep your label.
So, it makes the folks in the government hodgepodge hesitant to make a buying mistake that will have their name on it. Now, that’s not the only reason they’re cautious…and they don’t all fit the mold. But, cautious they are. No wonder trust is so important when trying to win a government contract.
You’ve got to have ways to truly demonstrate that you’re going to be trustworthy in this unique environment.
That brings me to the point of the episode - the Power of the Referral. If you’re buying something, don’t you like it when you get opinions from people you trust? Will these opinions influence your buying decisions? Of course, they will…probably a lot. The same thing applies in the government contracting space. They like to know their peers consider a vendor trustworthy. (Of course, they do.)
Even with the bureaucratic things you have to do to win contracts from the huge monster of government, referrals still matter. It’s amazing how small the circles are of people who are doing similar work in the government for different organizations. They know each other and they talk. Holy Moly, they talk. You do something viewed as untrustworthy, you’d better believe the word will spread…probably quickly, despite the size of the government beast.
On the other hand, you do what you said you would do, that word will spread, too. (OK, not quite as fast)…but good news travels, too.
So, what a thing of beauty it is to use referrals in your selling. They really work in the government space. If we do coaching sessions, like the ones Government Selling Solutions offers, we’ll connect the dots between your challenges and some things we’ve seen work particularly well, to spread your good news and use referrals. I have a great story to tell you in a moment about that.
Speaking of coaching sessions… (Pretty cool how I worked that in, huh?)
<<insert coaching spot>>
I was coaching a young fellow who I had moved from a sales engineering position to a quota’ed sales position. I thought he had potential in government sales, and he certainly wanted it. But, I wasn’t convinced that he would put in the work and place himself in the uncomfortable positions he hadn’t not experienced.
As many sales managers do, I had him do ride-alongs with senior salespeople and tell me what he learned. I went on one of these with him and one of our more experienced people. In the parking lot outside San Francisco after the call, I asked them both about their observations from the meeting. What really happened? What was likely to happen? Who was the key decision-maker? Is there a real shot at a sale here? You know, those kinds of things.
They had different answers to almost all of the questions. They even argued about what they thought they observed. (I enjoyed that.) As it turns out, the young fellow was right in almost all areas. The senior fellow was wrong. He didn’t last much longer.
So, the time came for the younger fellow to have accounts of his own. (Alright, I’ll give you his name - Chad.) Chad was pretty excited when I gave him a large western city to handle. Several people from the company had tried to win a contract with the city…and, no one could… including me. I figured it would be a good experience for him, but I didn’t expect him to make a sale there.
Before he headed west, he set up appointments with our customers in the smaller cities in the area. One day around lunchtime, Chad called me and said, “Rick, I may have screwed up”. “What did you do, Chad?”, I asked. He said, “I had a good meeting this morning with one of our customers, helped them work through some issues and told him that I had an appointment with the big city that afternoon. I asked him if he wanted to go with me. Rick, I was really just joking; I didn’t think he would do it…but he said yes. Now, what? Did I really screw up?”
I was silent for a moment. I could tell he was nervous about the silence. I finally said, “Chad, that was brilliant; make sure he gets there. Even if the customer talks about his issues with us, this shows me initiative, bravery and risk-taking on your part. And, I bet the big city will be impressed. I can’t wait to hear how this works out for you. I’m proud.”
You probably guessed the rest of the story. Not too much time later, much less time than our typical sales cycle, Chad closed the big city deal. It was among the first of his many wins. Proud again.
Oh, Chad just moved into a big house in a very affluent neighborhood with his wife and young cutie-pie daughter. He’s doing great! We’re not associated in business at the moment, and we’re not neighbors. (I can’t afford his neighborhood.) But, he regularly asks me for referrals and I him. (He’s much better at it than me.)
Referrals are powerful…particularly in the government space.
To be successful in government sales, become a… Master of Referrals! <<echo effect>>.
Thanks for listening, stay in touch, and think about that coaching offering.